Top Swiss beers by style: Stouts and Porters

Posted: November 5, 2011 in Beer tasting, Swiss beer scene, Top ten
Tags: , , , , ,

I like … what do I say ? I love ranking lists ! It’s like this, I am definitely more a scientist than a poet… That is why I would like to present you periodically my personal top tens of Swiss beers in different beer styles.

First of all, I must state something precisely: I do not judge beers to style. This is what is mostly done at homebrew or some other beer competitions. I do prefer and use an hedonic scale: how much does a beer please my senses is the most important to me. For example, even if I am usually more pleased by IPA than by Pilsner, I will favor an extravagant, original, well-made and challenging “not-true-to style” example from the latter over a true to style yet boring sample of the former every time.

This being said, a style classification is something important for the consumers, as it allows them, generally, to know what they can expect from a beer. But be careful: beer styles are moving targets and there is always plenty of room for interpretation, so you must be prepare to see sometimes wide differences in the same style. And be also cautious, talking about beer styles is like talking about religions: it can become very emotional …

So let’s take a closer look to today’s style. Well, I should say “styles” as I decided to put two of them together, namely Stout and Porter. There are two reasons for this: firstly, both styles share a lot of similitudes and can be considered as close relatives and secondly (in fact the main reason), I have only tasted 17 Porters from my country and at least 5 of them are now retired, so building a top ten out of 12 beers would be pretty ridiculous.

Porter has its origin in London at the beginning of the 18th century. It is the father of the later famous Stout. Porters are top fermented beers, dark brown to black in color and showing a roasted malty aroma. Cocoa and coffee are typical and they often present a hint of acidity. Baltic Porters, which appeared about 200 years later in the region between Denmark and the north-west of Russia, are bottom fermented, sweeter and stronger in alcohol (usually between 7.5% and 9.5%).

Also originated from England, Stout beers are top fermented, black in color and shows a roasted coffee-like profile with often notes of licorice and chocolate. Stout can be declined in subclasses: Dry Stouts (popular example: Guinness), Sweet Stouts (like Milk Stout and Oatmeal Stout) and Imperial Stouts, my personal favorite beer style, stronger (8 to 12% or even more), thicker and frequently more flavorful versions of basic Stouts.

The Old Cat, from the Brasserie Artisanale de Fribourg, has very certainly been the first Stout of the modern era brewed and commercialized in Switzerland (developed back in 1995 and sold since 1999). Then came the first Porter with the Sido’s Porter from les Faiseurs de Bière in 2000. Both beers are still produced but, although being very good, they do not appear in my top ten. Not long after came Stouts and Porters from other microbreweries: Haldemann, BFM, the legendary and now closed Bäre-Bräu, Altes Tramdepot and la Sierrvoise.

Stouts and Porters are absent of the big and middle-sized breweries’ portfolios. Decades of blond lager beers have led Swiss consumers away from dark beers and the biggest brewers are not ready to take some commercial risks and give them more visibility. So apart from Locher and his Calvinus Noire and Balik Beer (nota bene produced for two client brewers), you have to search by much more smaller breweries if you want to find something: BFM, Murailles, Sudwerk, Birrificio Ticinese, Altes Tramdepot and Öufi (by the last two though, not on regular basis).

Now it’s time to take a closer look to my personal ranking (please note that I have only considered beers which are still available!):

name brewery alc. comments
9th Black Cat Porter UHB  black chocolate and coffee are well present in this beautiful Porter
Arabica Degen 4.8% Swiss beer of the year 2009 in the category top-fermented, this is a beautiful Stout where the notes of coffee dominate
Äs Fyschter’s Mein Emmental 4.7%  a very roasted, fairly hoppy and much pleasant Dry Stout
Cévès Bâme Noire Bief 5.5%  don’t believe the brewers when they say this beer is lighter and less thick than Guinness … but better it is, that’s sure!
7th Weggess Stout Brauerei.sh 5%  a tasty Dry Stout showing notes of vanilla and walnuts
Bad Attitude Two Penny Birrificio Ticinese 8.15%  a very nice Porter brewed with American hops (Chinook, Amarillo and Willamette)
6th Pacific Pioneer Sudwerk 6%  unfortunately still a limited edition and not (yet?) available in the Coop supermarkets, this well-made, complex and dangerously drinkable Porter is for me the best of its kind
3rd Irish Stout Reinecke Bräu 6.1%  a pleasant, very drinkable and nicely complex Stout
Black Dream UG Bräu 5.1%  a tasty Irish Stout which makes Guinness look pretty ridiculous
la Noiraude Imperial Stout l’Enclave 7.5%  a complex full-bodied Imperial Stout
2nd Big Blackbier Rappi Bier Factory 8%  a seasonal Imperial Stout fermented four times: 2 tank fermentations, a barrel fermentation and a final bottle fermentation
1st Cuvée Alex le Rouge BFM 10.276%  brewed with Sarawak pepper (a pepper produced in the Malaysian portion of Borneo)

Cheers !

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